Authored by Shuko Chunga, Country Executive for Cloud and Cyber Security at Liquid Intelligent Technologies Zambia
With most businesses operating online, cyberspace has become the new frontier for social and economic progress in Africa. This is particularly relevant in Zambia where unemployment and poverty continues to escalate. But as online business operations have increased, so too has the number and severity of cyberattacks, which are now more advanced and damaging than ever before.
What is even more worrying is that Interpol found that more than 90% of businesses in Africa were operating without cyber security protocols, according to its 2021 Africa Cyberthreat Assessment Report. The grim reality is that between 2020 and 2022, Zambia suffered losses of more than K150 million (US$872,000) due to cybercrimes, while the continent as a whole, lost US$4 billion annually.
Today, with the rise of remote work and increased online business, additional risks have emerged, and where cyber security was once a nice-to-have service, it has now evolved into a must-have, especially as businesses compete in the global marketplace.
Small, micro, and medium businesses (SMMEs) are the hardest hit in the virtual realm because they are perceived as being easy targets with weaker security measures. The consequences of cyberattacks on SMMEs, who are becoming increasingly vulnerable, are disastrous.
These attacks are extremely difficult to recover from and can result in significant financial loss, reputational damage, legal consequences, and a long-lasting loss of trust among customers and partners. In some instances, ransomware attacks can lead to businesses not being able to access critical data or operate further. Such attacks impact their ability to do business in future, shatters their competitiveness, and compromises the value chain they are connected to.
The knock-on effect is now a formidable reality – resourceful cybercriminals are using the data of SMMEs as a backdoor to gain access to larger corporations through their suppliers. The significant value of the information and data that SMMEs hold is severely underestimated, and the choice to either safeguard or neglect it can ultimately make or break a business.
In Zambia, cybercrimes are at an all-time high. In 2021, 10.7 million cybercrimes were reported in the country, and in the same year, the Zambia Cyber Security Initiative Foundation revealed a 70% increase in data breaches. Zambia was ranked 73rd out of 194 countries in the 2021 Global Cyber Security Index in terms of cyber security readiness, but even more concerning was that the same index revealed that of the 54 African countries assessed, only 29 had introduced cyber security legislation.
It is therefore imperative for SMMEs to safeguard their digital assets by investing in a robust and reputable cyber security strategy which can protect sensitive information such as financial records, customer data, and intellectual property. It can also reduce the likelihood of cyberattacks, limit the impact of any breaches, and make it easier to recover if an attack does occur. Many industries have regulations governing data protection and privacy, and implementing cyber security measures will help SMMEs comply and avoid fines or legal action.
Investing in the right cyber security system is not complicated or expensive. In fact, the first step in safeguarding your digital assets and fortifying your security is to have strong passwords with a multi-factor authentication for all accounts. Other best practices include regularly updating software and installing security patches, training employees on how to identify phishing emails, as well as backing up important data regularly and storing it securely. Some of the more crucial practices are ensuring the usage of a reputable antivirus software and firewall, developing an incident response plan in the event of a cyberattack, and looking at cloud solutions which are known for being more cost-effective and scalable for SMMEs.
Cyber security in Zambia and Africa is paramount in today’s evolving digital economy. If businesses are to safeguard themselves against hackers and cyber syndicates, the first step is ensuring it receives the strategic priority it demands for sustainable business success.